Microsoft plans to end support for Windows XP in April. If you still use XP it's time to think about what you'll use as your next operating system.
This assumes you are either an individual user or a small company with a handful of PCs to worry about. Any bigger organisation that has yet to make plans needs specialist outside help, fast.
The most obvious choice is to move to a newer version of Microsoft Windows. We'll look more closely at that in a moment. If you've had enough of Windows, there are alternatives.
Go all the way with OS X
Apple's OS X is a good choice for individual users. It may take a little adjustment after XP, but so will moving to a modern version of Windows. OS X is less likely to crash - my MacBook Air can go months without needing a reboot.
Although you can get into long, protracted debates on the question, the truth is OS X is at least on a par with Windows when it comes to ease of use. Apple fans argue it is better. You can get OS X versions of almost all the important personal computer apps.
If you have a particular, essential Windows-only app you could set up your Apple computer to dual-boot Windows or even run a virtual version of Windows. This could be a useful approach if you have a Windows XP app you can't live without.
The downside of OS X is that it only runs on Apple hardware, so you'll have to buy new computers. Apple kit is not the cheapest option, but prices are roughly the same as similarly equipped Windows machines. On a more positive note, you'll get Apple's equivalent of Microsoft Office thrown in as part of the deal.
Google's browser OS
If upgrading from XP means buying new hardware, the other, less expensive, alternative to Windows is to get a Chromebook. These are mainly, not always, low-cost laptops that run Google's Chrome browser as an operating system. You can pay as little as $450 for a Chromebook.
You won't be able to run many, if any, familiar Windows apps. Instead you'll work with Google Docs, Spreadsheets and other browser-based tools.
ChromeOS is a huge departure from XP, but it can be worthwhile if you and your colleagues need to co-operate on documents. A Chromebook will run just about every online application, such as Xero.
Linux, if you dare
While geeky types might argue otherwise, it is hard for everyday users to switch to desktop Linux as a path from XP. The software can be fine, but some versions of Linux come with fishhooks and they all require a level of technical expertise that you may not have and learning to use Linux well will need more time than you may have to hand.
The next Windows
Which brings us to newer versions of Windows. The obvious, smoothest and least disruptive upgrade for XP users is Windows 7. It's a fine operating system with few flaws. It's likely to be most people's choice.
The best thing about Windows 7 is, unless you have been miserly with your hardware purchases, you should be able to run it without a hardware upgrade. Although adding more memory may help performance.
Another big plus for Windows 7 is that it will be, by and large, familiar to you and your colleagues. That's not the case with Windows 8 which is a disruptive upgrade.
Windows 8 is designed to work with touch screens. So to get the most out of it you'll need to buy new hardware. You'll also have to relearn ways of working. Larger companies have found workers struggle to adapt quickly to Windows 8. On the plus side, you can dress Windows 8 up in Windows 7 clothing.
If you choose Windows 8, or the more up-to-date Windows 8.1, you could take the opportunity to go mobile and buy a Microsoft Surface 2 or Surface Pro 2 tablet to replace your existing computers.
None of the options listed above are bad choices. If you're not strapped for cash, it is a good time to upgrade hardware as well as software.